Tampa City Council members reacted to Mayor Bob Buckhorn's cautious last budget Thursday with their own hedge, saying the city's economic forecast could change on a dime if the national and regional economy goes south in the next few months.
Buckhorn has said he won't ask for a property tax increase or borrow from the city's $91.2 million reserve fund to balance the city's roughly $1 billion budget.
Instead, he'll eliminate vacancies, delay equipment purchases like vehicles and put off maintenance on city-owned property.
On Thursday, Sonya Little, the city's chief financial officer, briefed council members on the broad strokes of the city's fiscal health.
A strong economy and buoyant stock market have helped reduce pension fund obligations and delivered a 10 percent bump in property values, reducing an estimated deficit from $13.5 million to $5 million, she said.
Buckhorn will present his budget to City Council on July 19. The council will then hold two public hearings on Sept. 6 and 17. Under state law, the city's budget needs to be balanced and approved by Sept. 30.
It wasn't all good news, however. A $6.8 million payment to pay off 1990-era bonds for the city's police headquarters, substations and fire equipment will be due in the fiscal year beginning Oct.1.
Next year, however, that payment more than doubles to $13.6 million, continuing for several years after that.. And if voters approve an enlargement of the homestead exemption it could slash city revenues by another $5 million, Little said Thursday.
"The deficit widens in out years until 2022," Little said.
How much to worry about that depends less on Tampa than the national and regional economy,
"It could change at any minute," said council member Charlie Miranda.
"It could be worse, it could also be better than what we're expecting," said council member Harry Cohen, who is running for mayor. " Almost every category is dependent on the economy. We're completely at the mercy of the national and local economy."